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Young people and mental health

A young woman holding a phone in her hand and looking into the distance

For mental health awareness week we are taking a look at mental health across the life course and consider how our mental health is impacted as we age. The Mental Health Foundation’s Mental Health Awareness Week happens every year, and it’s the biggest opportunity for the whole of the UK to come together to focus on getting good mental health. The week aims to tackle stigma and help people understand and prioritise their and others’ mental health.

Teenage/young adulthood is a crucial part of the life course. It can be a challenging time for any young person, but for young people with poor mental health this can be especially so. Poor mental health can blight young people’s experience of education and can hamper their ability to firstly find a job and secondly progress in the labour market. Young people with mental health problems are more likely to be out of work that their healthy peers. They are also more likely to be lonely and isolated.

Mental health problems amongst university students have also increased significantly in recent years. Even before the pandemic, universities had to cope with a rise in the need for support. By nearly every metric, university student mental health only appears to be declining.

Students face a number of pressures when transitioning into a new environment. As well as a heavy academic workload, for many young people this may be their first time living away from home, managing finances and building new relationships. This presents a unique set of challenges, contributing to an overall sense of stress and uncertainty.

Stress impacts everyone uniquely, and students respond to stress in varying ways. Although a moderate amount of stress can motivate students to do well, too much stress can ultimately negatively impact their overall wellness.

In 2021-2022 more than one-in-three (34%) young people aged 18-24 reported symptoms that indicated they were experiencing a ‘common mental disorder’ such as depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder.

Young people today have the poorest mental health of any age group – in contrast: two decades ago, young people had the lowest incidence of mental health problems. Young women are over 1.5 times more likely to experience a common mental disorder than young men.

Some argue that the rise of social media is fuelling anxiety and depression and enabling online bullying. Others highlight that young people today also experience increased pressure to perform in their studies and at work.

However, the welcome decline in stigma attached to mental health problems over the years may mean that young people today are more likely to report symptoms than they would have been in the past. Regardless of this, support for young people is urgently needed.

Resources that can help

If you are a young person looking for support with your mental health, or someone who is trying to support a young person there are some resources below which may help.

  • NHS
  • Young Minds – A UK charity fighting for a world where no young person feels alone with their mental health
  • Mind – A charity empowering people to understand their mental health and the choices available to them

Source: We’ve only just begun – report from Resolution Foundation